Motomachi Undokai

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I wrote this article for a newsletter which is circulated around the offices where my husband works…….

This autumn we experienced our first undokai, (sports festival), at our sons’ school: Motomachi elementary.  There were weeks of preparation before the event which was held in the school yard on a Saturday. Although our sons had been involved with school sports’ days in the UK, the undokai is serious stuff and far more impressive than sports’ day in England.

It is a whole-school event demonstrating the hard work of every teacher and child, and it is a real display of the pupils’ teamwork and individual efforts.

 

At the start of the undokai, the pupils march onto the yard to accompanying music from the loudspeakers. The three teams – yellow, red and blue are introduced.

 

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There then follows the whole-year displays. Our boys had been practising hard at home and were very excited to be performing in front of everyone. Our youngest son, in ninensei, (grade 2), took part in a gymnastic routine that was choreographed by the grade 2 senseis. Each yeargroup performed a different routine and our eldest son, in gonensei, (grade 5) danced the Soran Bushi, a powerful traditional dance and song from Hokkaido that represents fishermen.

 

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The grade 6 children performed a drum routine from Okinawa. It was all very impressive.

Across the school yard was hung bunting which the children has worked hard to make as wonderful as possible.

Unfortunately, the rain began to fall and so the day cancelled just before lunch and so we ate our obentos at home and the rest of the undokai was rescheduled for the following Tuesday morning.

Thankfully the sun shone that day and once again the score board was affixed to a high balcony and the games played on. At one end of the playground the teachers ran an efficient set of races for the first graders, then second graders with every child taking part in a 100m dash. There was a starting gun which didn’t faze most of the children, and even the first graders were taught how to start a race properly with races abandoned if a child took a false start.

The older children ran longer races, and after the races were finished there was a final session of co-operative games which settled the final scores.

The ninenseis had to battle it out in their teams with each team throwing beanbags into a tall beacon-shaped net. The team with the largest score won. Gonenseis took part in another traditional undokai pursuit of the Kibasen or chivalry battle, where kids ride horses (other team-mates) and try to take the cap off their opposing rider.  It was great fun and very exciting to watch.


 

Oh my word, what a great experience it was. So professional and everyone was so dedicated.

We caused some upset by taking the boys out of school for two weeks in the lead-up to the Undokai – leaving them with only one week to prepare on their return. (I think routines were practiced for three weeks before we went away: a lot of effort.) Dan’s HR received a testy phonecall about the situation, which I felt awful about. Thankfully the wonderful HR lady fought our corner and reassured the school.

I was blown away by the production values. A PA system pumped out motivational music during the races and cheerleading gangs chivvied on the participants. So fab.

Very unlike the half-hearted tokenism that is an English sports day. I have high-hopes for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics if their Undokai is anything to go by!

On a personal note, a group of us English speaking Mums was able to muddle around and find each other which led to a nice coffee morning a week or two later.

 

 

 

Poor Old Whitehaven Academy

I have a blogpost in the brewing about this year’s school sports day, here in Motomachi, but I am interrupting my daily kanji learning to blog about the school cultures here in Japan and in the UK in light of Warren Turner’s apparent resignation as head of Whitehaven Academy.

The background to Whitehaven Academy is that is was turned into an academy and Bright Tribe, a Multi Academy Trust, (MAT) were the sponsors. They let the buildings get in a terrible state, their staffing levels left a lot to be desired meaning children studying GCSEs were often without subject-proficient teachers and took lots of money from the UK government with very little to show for it here in Whitehaven. In September a Panorama tv programme highlighted the corruption of MATs who run many secondary and primary schools in England and highlighted irregularities found in Bright Tribe.

Through the campaigning efforts of parents and the local MP Bright Tribe have relinquished control of Whitehaven and a new, local, MAT is in the process of taking over. All good. But sadly, it seems as though the head teacher who really was well-respected and tried his hardest for the kids of Whitehaven has felt he has to resign. This seems to be the way the new MAT likes new acquisitions – with a new head who can be moulded into shape and be a true ambassador for the MAT.

And this is where it is all wrong. The education of pupils should be a community effort, not a corporate one.

Here in Japan, for all its failings, (and many parents are not adequately happy with public elementary schools here and enrol their children into cram schools too), the schools are run by local school boards. The city boards’ schools work together to share best practice and ensure parity for all children. The teachers are all highly trained (as opposed to some of the international private schools where you can teach without training). Yes, I know Japan is an extreme example of a homogenous community, but it is a very comfortable community to be a part of.

Headteachers in England have the pressure from government of performing well in league tables – in primary education it’s SAT results, (important because if they underperform they then become a target for becoming an MAT and there goes some/most of their autonomy), and at secondary level it’s the Progress Eight scores. Then, as heads in MATs have extra pressure to stay ‘on message’ and do the Trust’s bidding, another tier of pressure is added to an already stressful job.

I really do fear for the pupils we are churning out in English state schools. Their education is politicised and monetised and I do not think we are producing better-educated souls as a result.

Ideally, I would like to see all schools come back under the control of a well-funded LEA, led by people who understand education and pedagogy and who can produce community spirited, educated young adults. But so much needs to change for that to happen. Sighs.

Anyway, I’d better get back to my Kanji flashcards. Oliver is at Motomachi elementary right now (Saturday!), taking part in an earthquake emergency training session. Hubby and youngest are sat in the Italian Gardens, reading. I’m meant to be finishing my kanji learning and I got distracted.

 

The Guilt of November 11

British autumns from your childhood, eh? You’ve got the thrill of going back to school, (I enjoyed kit lists and new stationary and all that jazz); you’ve got harvest festivals, (some great primary school classics such as ‘Autumn leaves when the grass is jewelled’ and ‘Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green’); then there’s Halloween and Bonfire Night; and then church parade and Remembrance Day. All well and good.

This year we are in Yokohama and the school term starts in April, not September; the school’s focus was undokai (sports festival), not harvest festival; yes, there’s been Halloween celebrations but no trick or treating and it’s warm and sunny not cold and rainy, and as far as autumn landmarks go, that’s it now. No Bonfire Night, (obviously) and no Remembrance Day.

But, as I recalled, Japan was an ally in World War One so why isn’t there a similar event here? Well, the losses Japan sustained were a tiny fraction of those of the British and Commonwealth forces – I think less than one hundred were killed, mostly in the Mediterranean, and it is hardly mentioned in the Japanese history books. Conversely, British society was torn asunder by the loss of young men: men who never returned or if they did, were often affected by physical or mental wounds. It scarred the British psyche.

Of course, the second world war scarred the country again – and the civilian population sustained losses in the blitz and u boat campaigns. Children born after 1945 were often fascinated by the impact of the war on their families and country. Their children are my generation who now have children of our own.

Thankfully my knowledge of war is scant. I remember the first months of the first Iraq war whilst I was basking on a school bench in Kenilworth, one sunny September lunchtime. Then, the start of the second Iraq war coincided with me taking on a job at County archive. However, as a Guide, I would dutifully and patriotically take part in Remembrance Day Parade. Later, as part of a Scout marching band we would lead the march through small town in the New Forest.  I even attended one or two wreath laying events at university: for the first time attending in civvies. As a young adult I would happily buy a poppy. Pin it to a coat. Then lose that poppy, and go and buy another. Then more recently, I would buy a poppy or two but I would perhaps be wearing my Goretex jacket (as by this point I was living in rainy Cumbria, land of Goretex), or it might be a dry day and I might be wearing my new Rab feather jacket and not want to get a hole in it, and that act of buying a poppy becomes an imposition. I still buy the poppy but it languishes beside my bed. They are just bloody impractical for November weather in Cumbria.

Why am I obsessing about the wearing of a poppy? Tommy Robinson. I saw him on telly, a good week or two ago, stood outside a court in his smart suit and pristine poppy and it reminded me of all the news/media folk you see on the telly at this time of year, all with their pristine poppies which are OBVIOUSLY newly pinned by some runner whose job it is from mid-October onwards to have a ready supply of poppies (and pins) to hand. Because heaven forfend that you are seen without one. A nod to the mores but not necessarily sincere.

I do often think about the soldiers’ sacrifice, and griping about the impracticality of wearing a poppy for a week or so does seem so bloody petulant, but I’m fed up with the guilt. The guilt of feeling like you have to prove to people that you HAVE bought a poppy (usually several). The guilt that you haven’t had to see your generation sacrificed for some greater cause, and now the guilt that this sort of unhealthy and impractical relationship to the fallen can be commandeered by right wingers.

Having lived in a country that has had to redefine itself after 1945 I find it refreshing to know that national esteem doesn’t have to be linked to military victories. I’ve decided that the next time I am in the UK in October/ November I am going to make a donation to the Royal British Legion and then buy some temporary poppy tattoos online and stick them on my face. Yes, it’s unconventional, but that’s me.

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Above is a list of allied servicemen who gave their lives in the First World War. It’s in the Yokohama Foreign Cemetery. I’m plan to find out more about it. Watch this space.

Sunshine in October

 

Today’s Halloween and am I missing the overpriced school party, the cold and the rain? Am I missing the last minute sweet shopping for trick or treating or persuading the boys to dress up? No, not at all. The other morning it was slightly chillier and I did consider making a cup of tea (Yorkshire Gold with milk) but I didn’t get round to it and the urge passed.

We’re hosting a Bonfire Night party with some other Brits on Friday but otherwise, I am not missing British autumn at all.

The last few days have been so warm and sunny, I’ve loved walking around Yokohama, soaking up the sunshine.

On Monday night I went to a theatre to listen to a traditional storyteller tell some standup in English. It’s called rakugu I think. It was really good, and I was part of an audience that had been invited to go for the experience to be filmed by NHK World. I got a decorative handkerchief/towel and 1ooo yen as a thank you. I was in the third row along with a Black couple, a Filipina and an Indian guy. I think my Mediterranean looks affected my seating. On the front row were all the blonde women. (Yes, Japan is racist).

Dan’s working hard at the moment in a three week blast of HAZOP meetings. I’m getting by, but I am missing having lunch with him and his colleagues. The kids are ok at school – I don’t think there are any big events coming up for them, but we are needing to tell the school that we’ll be taking them out of school YET AGAIN as the term doesn’t end till December 26th. That’s right folks, without Dan’s intervention, they’d be at school on Christmas Day. (I’m all up for it as I hate Christmas).

 

 

 

Bloody Brexit

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Today’s been pretty productive. I’ve got up early, written my Morning Pages for the first time; gone through my Anki flashcards (katakana, kanji and conversation); sewed some colours onto the boys’ gym hats for sports day; cooked porridge; stripped the bed; put a wash on; washed up. But then I peeked at Twitter. I know, I know. Stupid me.

Most week days I meet up with Dan and his colleagues for lunch. Most of us are English but usually there is at least one Japanese friend too. Most days we lament Brexit and I used to feel bad for our Nihongo friend for talking politics in front of him. A couple of months ago we’d be incredulous but jovial about it. More recently, however, the joy has gone and we are more angry and I am not feeling bad about talking politics because this is SEISMIC in terms of what it means to be British and the future of Britain and we are angry about it and this is a historical time for us and we care.

Yesterday there was a government advice notice, (or whatever they’re called) that puts it in black and white that air traffic could well be affected. I remember discussing this with a Brit I met at a hostel last October and the Europeans we were chatting with dismissed this – it wouldn’t happen. But I reckon it might. And when is Dan’s contract meant to end? When are we meant to fly back? Start of April. Ho, ho, ho!

I’m getting so angry about the stripping of rights and freedoms for us Brits and especially the younger generation. What is our country meant to become? What is our plan, our vision, our blueprint? Even now, there’s no obvious future except uncertainty at best and economic ruin and social chaos at worst. It’s been a shambles for TWO BLOODY YEARS. I’m sorry. I know this is nothing new but I just have to vent.

I get bogged down in this division that has been thrust upon us by the righteous 52% and then think, but it’s okay. There are still artists and kind people and beautiful green countryside and they make living in the UK worthwhile. But I also get the feeling that everyone is getting fed up with the whole Brexit process. At best they are ignoring it and assuming everything will be fine. At worst, friends are depressed and anxious about their jobs, their future, medicines, the food they will be able to buy and feed their families with and the cost of holidays. They are wondering if their neighbours are going to stick around; if there will be enough doctors and GPs, enough people to pick the food this country CAN grow.

Returning to the UK was going to be hard enough come the spring, but returning to Brexit Britain really makes my heart sink.

I’ve got lots of lovely holiday-type blog posts to write. I’m sorry I’m overdue. And if you’ve got this far through this post you deserve a gold star. Good on you. Take care of yourselves.

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Hiking – Kita Kamakura to Kamakura

Last Saturday we caught the train to Kita Kamakura to walk a wee hiking trail. This was my first time on this walk but the boys had done it before with Dan.

Along the way there are two or three temples and I think we visited two. Sadly, we gave the cat temple a miss.

In the first temple complex there were various shrines including these three statues of buddhas which depict the past, present and future.

There is also a cave which I stupidly bravely walked along without any light. I freaked out just as I reached the end of the tunnel.

There was another wee cave which housed a jolly buddha and so we all dutifully gave his belly a rub and rugged at his finger and earlobe.

There was a lovely traditional house there too.

As far as inspiration for relandscaping our garden, trips like this are great.

A little further along the walk we stopped at a second temple at the top of a ridge. It had a very different vibe.

Not far from here was an excellent terrace cafe that served delicious homemade croissants. We pigged out. We pigged out so badly I didn’t even take photos of the brilliant croissants. George had a yummy mango pudding though.

It was great to see the kinoko (fungi) again and various flowers.

Arriving back into Kamakura, we stopped at a small cafe and I had iced matcha tea and a cinnamon doughnut (homemade).

We then went to a bar that Dan likes and had a couple of pints of tasty and strong IPA. The food that the chef was prepping for tea looked wonderful but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to stretch out our visit to the bar for long enough. Another time.

Nashi picking

A couple of weeks ago George had his first Beavers session after the summer break. They met at Ishikawacho station in the morning and that was them till the afternoon.

He had a great time, and was really proud of his haul.

There’s a new Beaver leader, too, which G is excited about.

His leader sent us some photos and told us that G had been helping the shorter Beavers to pick their Asian Pears.